Ipswich is the longest established town in East Anglia. The term wic is used to describe those entrepôts which grew up at the head of navigation in Saxon times; Ipswich was as far upstream on the river Orwell as seagoing vessels were able to reach. Whilst there is evidence of settlement from earlier times, Ipswich, Gippes-wic, as a town dates from the 7th century. It became a strategically important settlement to which producers brought their goods for trade and which the elite of the population therefore sought to control.
From the early 8th century to the middle of the 9th century, the craftsmen of the settlement produced Ipswich ware, well-made pottery turned on a slow wheel. It was generally plain and sandy greyware, usually various sized 'baggy' jars with plain upright rims. Archaeologists find it throughout East Anglia and sometimes further afield.
Ipswich grew as a key town for the East Anglian Saxon kingdom of the Wuffingas, the royal family which had its burial mounds at Sutton Hoo. From its initial foundation in the time of King Raedwald the town prospered. The Danish invasion which began in 866 and resulted in the death of King Edmund in 870 brought Ipswich under Viking control; the town was sacked several times in raids. It did not grow in size as a Viking town but defences for the town were built, probably in order to prevent it being retaken by the English.
Viking raids and local rebellion against William the Conqueror after he had conquered England did perhaps hold back the prosperity of Ipswich, but its ideal position for trading both across the North Sea and with its own hinterland ensured it grew as an economic centre.It was minting its own coins from the 970s. The town developed around the Cornhill area, with streets running down to the waterfront. The number of medieval churches was second only to Norwich. In 1200 Ipswich was awarded its charter by King John. A copy of the document which details this event still survives and is an explanation of how a community entrusted power for government into its chosen officials; of how local government developed.
The wealth of the town developed over the next four centuries, with Ipswich being at the end of that corridor in Suffolk which grew rich from the wool trade; Ipswich shipped the wool to the Low Countries. The wine trade with Gascony and salt fish trade with Iceland led the prosperous traders to build their houses close to the quayside and some of these gracious properties can still be seen.
The port would be the centre of activity over the centuries, though gradual silting would cause difficulties in later times. Engineering works were planned at the end of the 1700s, widening, straightening and deepening were all carried out alongside the building of port facilities - with many of the later warehouses now being demolished in the 21st century.
The development to the port facilities which began at the end of the 1700s was accompanied by industrial developments, in particular Robert Ransome establishing his foundry in 1789. A number of smaller and medium size ships were built at Ipswich, and there were other industries connected with the sea, such as the making of rope and of sails. Jacob Garrett also operated a foundry and brought all his iron in through the port. Civil engineering and agricultural engineering demanded the finished product the Garretts' and Ransomes' could produce; the coming of the railways provided another demand to be met by those whose would design and build in iron and steel. With the growth of prosperity, so the population of the town and the sprawl of the housing continued to expand. Banking, brewing, the making of corsets and the making of cigarettes were other developments that took place.
The Eastern Union finally brought the railway to Ipswich in 1846 and further lines made Ipswich a hub for the railways of Suffolk. The building of the current station in Ipswich and a road to service it caused further extension of the town. It also led to that almost otherwise unheard of phenomena for East Anglians - a railway tunnel - under Stoke Hill!
Today Ipswich is governed as a borough. Whilst many of the former industries have gone, others such as financial services have arrived in the town and Ipswich is both the formal county town for Suffolk and very much the service centre of the county. The 21st century has begun with the radical changing of the part played by the port in the town; the industrial warehouse of the last two centuries have now nearly all gone, to be replaced by flats, and the harbour is packed with small craft as marina facilities are created.
The river and dockside symbolises the very reason a town grew up in this location. Whilst many of the former dockside buildings have now gone, these have been sympathetically converted for dwelling.
There are many medieval churches in the town. However, the towers are not quite what they seem. Many of the town centre churches were substantially rebuilt in the 1880s.
The pargetting on the plasterwork of the Ancient House is special to the area.
One of Ipswich's famous sons was Cardinal Wolsey, adviser to Henry VIII. We've chosen a different and more recent son with this memorial picture; the statue of Gran reminds us that cartoonist Giles was a son of Ipswich.
The White Horse is one of the older traditional town centre inns, but may need to find another use now that car parking is one of the key requirements for a hotel.